Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District, Ohio

The Cuyahoga SWCD’s primary deliverable was the Blueprint to Urban Agriculture. As such, the Horticulture Specialist spent time interviewing 53 urban agriculture constituents in Cleveland and a few in the west suburbs. Often, these interviews were conducted on farm or garden sites. Most of the constituents consisted of urban farmers, but also included landlords, community garden managers, colleagues from Ohio State University Extension and other peripheral community agriculture members.

Initially, the Blueprint was conceptualized as a book or pamphlet. However, it was apparent things can change quickly. A book or pamphlet would be outdated as soon as it was published. Therefore, it was decided the Blueprint would be a website so content could be continually updated and added.

Time was spent learning how to build a website, creating content for the Blueprint, and subsequently building the website at www.blueprinttourbanagriculture.com. For the sake of having a physical product, staff designed the “Resources” section as a one-page fact sheet and is the most important page on the site.

Examples of technical assistance provided include: interpreted soil tests and made recommendations for Oxbow Orchard; taught individual how to install drip irrigation; showed Eat to Live Farm how to Florida Weave tomato trellises; walked Addison Farm through fire hydrant permitting process and supplied with permit application and contact person at the water department; advised Bay Branch Farm of Gardening for Greenbacks grant program (who applied and were awarded a grant to install 1,500-gallon rain water collection system); created a garden plan for existing, overgrown and litter-strewn garden at Cleveland’s Martin Luther King High School on behalf of the Alliance for Great Lakes; and created a Kinsman Farm Management and Volunteer Plan for the West Creek Conservancy.

Other highlights of the project were:

  • Received an Ohio Department of Agriculture Healthy Soils Grant to create two cover crops demonstration sites and subsequent workshop.
  • Partnered with Dr. Basta’s soil lab from OSU for pawpaw orchard installation and experiment. The process was turned into a time-lapse video that was posted on the District’s Facebook page, on You Tube, as well as in the Blueprint.
  • Developed and presented a soils workshop for the OSU Extension Master Gardeners class.
  • Invited to participate in the Great Lakes Urban Agriculture Integrated Pest Management Working Group.
  • Submitted a proposal to NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program for the Greater Cleveland Reforestation Project, which was approved.
  • Submitted a proposal to SARE to demonstrate the potential of compost tea to restore soil biology in highly degraded urban soils.
  • Invited to be a member of Refugee Response (an urban farm) Advisory Board.

The project provided an opportunity to address stakeholder concerns identified at the 2016 Local Work Group Meeting (with USDA NRCS). At the same time, it raised the profile of the Cuyahoga SWCD in the county.

 Sustainability

The Cuyahoga SWCD Board committed funding to support the Urban Agriculture Program through 2018, and the Horticulture Specialist has taken on additional responsibilities. In the meantime, the staff is seeking grants for projects that link urban agriculture, urban forestry, soil health and education for further program support and for retaining the Horticulture Specialist position. The district was asked to submit a full proposal to NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program for a project entitled the “Greater Cleveland Reforestation Project,” which was approved. In the fall, a SARE grant proposal was submitted for restoring soil biology to degraded urban soils via compost tea. Going forward, the district will continue to look for funding sources, which may include teaming up with nongovernmental agencies to develop proposals for farm management in Cleveland’s Urban Agriculture Zone.

Since the Blueprint is a web document, it will be updated as needed, regardless of funding for the specialist position. This was part of the reasoning behind making the Blueprint a website.

The Horticulture Specialist has been attending advisory group meetings and conducting outreach such as the keynote at the district’s 68th Annual Meeting. The district held a Conservation Farm Tour targeting local officials. In addition to one mayor and one Cuyahoga councilperson, attendees included the county’s Sustainability Director and staff from Congressional Representatives Marcia Fudge and Marcy Kaptur’s office, as well as a staffperson from Senator Sherrod Brown’s office.

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